Detainees at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers have been denied basic medical care, according to a whistleblower nurse in a Georgia immigration detention facility.
Dawn Wooten, a registered nurse who worked full-time at the Irwin County Detention Center until July, said in a complaint filed to a federal watchdog that detainees had improperly received hysterectomies and other gynecological procedures without their informed consent.
Wooten made the allegations in a complaint filed on Monday to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General by a coalition of advocacy groups.
Wooten said that she and other nurses had noticed women were receiving hysterectomies at an improbable rate, and that they were worried the detainees did not understand the nature of the procedures as most medical staff members do not speak Spanish.
“These immigrant women, I don’t think they really, totally, all the way understand this is what’s going to happen depending on who explains it to them,” she said in her complaint. “A lot of them said that they didn’t understand what was being done to them. Nobody explained it to them.”
Meanwhile, attorneys for the detainees at Irwin told Reuters that several women had complained about gynecological treatment by an outside provider to the facility.
The allegations caused an outcry among Democratic lawmakers including US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and US Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer who demanded an investigation on Tuesday into the claims made by the nurse.
“If true, the appalling conditions described in the whistleblower complaint – including allegations of mass hysterectomies being performed on vulnerable immigrant women – are a staggering abuse of human rights," Pelosi said in a statement. “The DHS Inspector General must immediately investigate the allegations detailed in this complaint."
Meanwhile, ICE refuted the allegations with Dr. Ada Rivera, the medical director of the ICE Health Service Corps, saying in a statement that since 2018 only two individuals at the center were referred for hysterectomies based on recommendations by specialists that “were reviewed by the facility clinical authority and approved.”
“The accusations will be fully investigated by an independent office, however, ICE vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures.”
ICE has come under scrutiny over its handling of the coronavirus at detention centers, prompting the inspector general to luanch an investigation of the agency’s practices in May.
The agency had fueled a massive coronavirus outbreak at a Virginia facility through flying detainees there to facilitate the deployment of its agents to Washington to clamp down on protests, according to a Friday report by The Washington Post.